Sapa to Hà Giang, Vietnam
May 4, 2023-May 9, 2023
Day 8: Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam
May 4, 2023
It was now time to commence our trip north to Sapa, Vietnam. We were up at 5:00 a.m. for our long shuttle ride from Hanoi. After several hours of climbing the steep mountainside roads we reached our destination!
Vietnamese prefer the taste of artificial sauces and spices in their food. The extra salty, sweet, and most notably, MSG-filled meals had started to take their toll. Especially with Lawrence who already suffers from multiple food allergies.
By the time we arrived in the town of Sapa our stomachs had had enough. We attempted some lunch, which was tasty but none the more agreeable, and decided to take the second half of our travel day to rest in our beautiful hotel room. Lawrence was very sick from repeated food sicknesses and could not do much more than lay there. We watched Rain Man, random, but it was on Lawrence’s watch list, then hit the hay.
Day 9: Sapa, Vietnam
May 5, 2023
We woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Today we headed to Fansipan Mountain. Atop sat a giant modern temple only accessible by gondola. After some breakfast we headed to the cable car station to purchase our tickets.
Fansipan is quite the day excursion. First you take a cable car ride up to Sun World Park, a scenic photo-stop with the first dose of beautiful views. Next you take the longest cable car ride in the world up to the top of Fansipan mountain.
There you’ll find your second dose of extraordinary views. Fansipan is so high up you are in the clouds: no exaggeration! At the base of the mountain, where you first get off the gondola, you can see them quickly wisping and forming just a few feet above you.
For the next part of the journey, you have two options: you can either take a second cable car from the base to the peak of the mountain, or you can climb on foot. Wanting to really earn that peak-pic, we chose the latter!
I’m glad we chose the on-foot trek up the temple because there’s so much to see and explore along the way! Since it is a high-altitude journey it’s important to take it slow as you make your way higher and higher. High altitude fatigue sets in almost immediately as the oxygen levels decrease little by little. It kind of just makes you feel way more tired than you typically would. Climbing one flight of stairs feels like climbing 10!
First a steep staircase split by a man-made waterfall guides you up to the over 70-foot-tall bronze Buddha statue. Once you reach Buddha you can even go inside and gaze at the golden shrine he holds within.
After Buddha there are several more fantastic photo ops as the views just get better and better with every step up. By the time we reached the main temple (still a ways-away from the peak of Fansipan Mountain) we were surrounded with clouds.
With a heavy fog throughout the walls of the temple, the wind blowing, the nearby mountains coming in and out of view with each passing cloud, you really feel like you’re on a movie set or in another world completely!
This main temple was the most beautiful I had seen (at least so far). The inside was so large with so many layers of gold adorned statues and treasures, my camera does not do it justice. There is a true sense of peace and victory for having made it this far up the mountain. Especially for Lawrence who was just doing his best after being so sick.
At last, we reached the final stretch! It was the steepest series of stairs, and the most altitude sickness educing, but we prevailed. Finally, we reached the peak of Fansipan Mountain at 3,143 meters high, that’s over 10,300 feet! We had earned our peak-pics for sure.
As we slowly descended the mountain in reverse order that we came up we felt better and better as the oxygen grew more abundant. Exhausted from the day, we strolled through the picturesque town and grabbed dinner at a local place back on earth, before retiring to our hotel for the evening.
Day 10: Sapa back to Hanoi, Vietnam
May 6, 2023
Our bus back to Hanoi was scheduled for early afternoon so we got to spend the morning a bit more leisurely than usual with some packing, coffee, and brunch.
Our twisty ride down the mountain was much more nauseating than on the way up, but luckily only lasted the first 45 minutes or so. By the time we made it back to Hanoi the sky had turned dark.
We had another quick turnaround in Hanoi, as the next morning we were to leave, again, around 5:00 a.m. for our next adventure. We went to bed after dinner, showers, and re-packing our gear into our smaller travel-size backpacks.
Day 11: Hanoi to Hà Giang, Vietnam
May 7, 2023
One of the coolest experiences we had in Vietnam was our motorbike tour through the Hà Giang Mountains. We were able to book through Chase Sapphire using our credit card points which was fantastic financially. The only downside is we were left in the dark when it came to the fine details like where in our itinerary we were stopping and how large of a group we would be in.
We were picked up in a bus organized by the company we booked with. We left around 6:00 a.m. and did not arrive until after noon. Our arrival point was at a local hostel and motorbike rental company in the city of Hà Giang.
We dropped off our large bags, bringing only our fanny packs and small backpacks equipped only with a few outfits and necessary toiletries. Our guides greeted us, we each hopped on the back of a motorbike, and off we went! Since we didn’t know what to really expect having booked with Chase, we were surprised to find out it was just us and our two guides. We were essentially given a private tour for free!
After having some lunch at a nearby café, we rode for about three hours before stopping at our first photo op. The Hà Giang Mountains are so incredible to behold photos will never do it justice.
This seems to be a reoccurring theme in Vietnam. All the landscapes are so dynamic a camera can’t possibly capture the depth and layers that you can see with your own eyes. In every direction that you look there are mountains layered with fog as far as the eye can see.
Another few hours of weaving in and out of mountains and we arrived at our accommodation for the night. We settled in and then left once again to our final excursion of the day. Less than a mile away was a picturesque waterfall and swimming hole. It was quite busy with other backpackers on motorbike tours.
A bar had been built up into the rocks, people jumped from the top of the waterfall, and bathed beneath it. It had the feel of a large pool party! I have also yet to see such a large gathering of white people in Vietnam; this was definitely a place they brought travelers instead of a local hot spot.
After getting our fill of swimming we made our way back to the homestay for a delicious family style dinner shared amongst the other tour staying as well. Remember the “Happy Water” and Vietnamese cheers we learned about in Hanoi? Our knowledge was about to be very useful.
The rice wine is the opposite of smooth, but it gets the job done! The motorbike guides were enthusiastic about pouring us as much complimentary Happy Water as we pleased and joined in many times for “Môt hai ba, dzô! Hai ba, dzô! Hai ba, uðng!” the Vietnamese cheers.
Lawrence and I were pretty tuckered out after our long day, so we opted out of staying up for late night karaoke. But don’t worry we still heard plenty from a distance!
Day 12: Hà Giang Mountains, Vietnam
May 8, 2023
Today we woke to a storm moving into the Hà Giang Mountains. This meant some very fashionable plastic rain pants, poncho, and booties to aid us in our journey. We had approximately 150 kilometers to travel today, so it was going to be a long one.
After some breakfast we started our journey with the first stop being the ruins of an old French fort. Vietnam was occupied by France back in 1858, to this day you’ll find plenty of French-inspired architecture and old French military bases and fortresses. The fort was in view of an, as always, scenic lookout. It was also interestingly right next to a marijuana farm. Weed is not technically legal in Vietnam, but a ban on the drug is also not really enforced.
We were warned that today there would be a 30-kilometer stretch of our journey on an unpaved, very bumpy, road. When we arrived at the beginning of the trail the rain had turned the dirt road into a thick, muddy clay. It was so thick we couldn’t get through on the bikes and had to walk a small stretch! We’re always down for adventure so we didn’t mind. Plus, Lawrence found a pretty cool rock while we were on foot!
As we journeyed higher the clouds and fog grew thicker. At some points you couldn’t see ten feet in front of you, but at others the clouds would dramatically roll in and out of the valleys between the mountains creating even more picturesque views.
After lunch we stopped twice more nearby our hotel for a look at a river that sat in a beautiful valley. The mountains that we saw in the distance were actually in China! We were in sight of the Vietnam/China border.
Our last stop before the hotel was the Happiness Road Youth Monument. This statue is dedicated to the hard work of those that built the road that was responsible for a large stretch of the Hà Giang loop. It is called Happiness Road because of the great joy it brings to the local people being able to explore and share the Hà Giang Mountains.
Wet, muddy, and with very sore backsides, we showered up and took a nap before our next family style dinner. This dinner was even tastier than the last, and the Happy Water even more abundant. It tasted slightly better tonight, but I wouldn’t have done six shots of it without the aid of peer pressure.
There was another group doing a similar tour but in the opposite direction so we chatted with them a bit. A record number of Americans too! Two people from the group plus Lawrence and I made a record-breaking total of four whole Americans in one room at the same time. Wild!
Day 13: Hà Giang Mountains, Vietnam
May 9, 2023
For the last day of our Hà Giang loop motorbike tour, we had to travel as long as the day prior. Close to another 150 kilometers. It was just as rainy today, so we got to dress just as fashionably as the previous day.
My oh my did our butts hurt. Riding on the back of a motorbike is only comfortable for maybe the first hour, after that you constantly feel the need to adjust or compensate taking some of the weight off by using your feet, which in turn wrecks your knees. It’s all around not the best time. If you are ever to travel to Hà Giang, Vietnam I suggest obtaining your motorcycle license in the States first, so that you can have the whole seat to yourself!
Regardless of our aching tailbones we saw even more incredible views today. Our first stop was to this giant castle in a Japanese architectural style. Walking through it was like entering a corn maze. Every door had another passage, to another door, to another passage. We could’ve weaved through the 3-stories for hours. Because the signage was written in Vietnamese and our guides didn’t speak the best English, we didn’t find out much about who lived in the castle or why it was important. It was an interesting, artistic, structure to behold though.
We only stopped here and there throughout the rest of the day for some lookouts and lunch. By midday we were pretty tuckered out and our butts were ready for a day off! When we arrived back in Hà Giang city we bid our guides goodbye, repacked our bags, and prepared for the shuttle back to Hanoi.
After such a long trek this seven-hour bus ride felt endless. When we arrived at the hostel we eagerly climbed into our bunks for some rest.
Stay tuned for what’s next! Our future stops include more of Hanoi, Phong Nha, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh/Saigon. And catchup on our previous articles featuring Ha Long Bay and Hanoi, Vietnam!